Fulham is running out of lives. It was a devastating defeat, inflicted by a superb additional strike from Adama Traore, and of which they may have few complaints. Traoré ran on a smart, round pass from the corner of substitute Fábio Silva to hammer out a vicious incline practice past Alphonse Areola and leave Scott Parker’s side three points behind Newcastle, who have two games in hand.
While Wolves weren’t much superior during the 90 minutes, Fulham just wasn’t doing enough and they had already been lucky once. Wolves were furious when Willian José’s header at the stroke of half-time was brushed aside by a ridiculous application of VAR, but in the end that didn’t matter and they got their first victory in six games. .
Fulham had a late collapse at Villa Park last weekend and Parker’s search for stability led him to select Terence Kongolo, who had been forced to bide his time to make his Premier League debut after being injured during the first half of the season, in defense. It felt like a gamble, as did his decision to deploy three center-backs for the first time since early February. Had José glanced at Nélson Semedo’s second-minute free kick past Areola, rather than the other side of him, the manager’s reshuffle should have faced some tricky first questions . José hadn’t scored since joining Wolves but he would have a lot more to regret later.
Debates took a turn for the worse until, shortly before the half hour mark, Fulham came in close with a blinking header of his own. Ruben Loftus-Cheek should have converted him: The luck arose when Antonee Robinson, the left winger who had shown most of the hosts’ offensive initiative, was spotted in space by a raked pass from Joachim Andersen and had time to measure a center. . The delivery was perfect but Loftus-Cheek, unmarked and 12 meters away, nodded in front of Rui Patrício’s left as he ran.
That was enough to trigger a mini-flurry in which Aleksandar Mitrovic fired around the turn but saw a defender block from close range. That wave of pressure wore off soon enough: Wolves had been eviscerated at the break by West Ham on Monday and had no intention of succumbing to a repeat performance, while Fulham’s prospects of producing one were severely hampered by the absence of Ademola Lookman due to a hamstring injury.
Pedro Neto’s untimely departure with a blow does not bode well for more ebb and flow as his replacement was the stabilizing influence of João Moutinho.
While Adama Traore remained on the loose, his only contribution before the interval was a left-footed strike that went terribly wide from a decent position near the edge of the box.
Mitrovic planted a wide header but, with the final half-time action, José appeared to break his duck. A methodical wolf move ended with Daniel Podence hitting the right line and crossing for José to stand up and convert with strength. A legitimate goal, until the obsessive and ruinous interference of VAR is taken into account. Podence was eventually ruled offside by the smaller part of a shoulder; even that, however, was hardly evident from the replays. Wolves had every right to smoke.
Maybe Fulham would use the trigger as fuel to climb to safety. Kongolo delivered a sharp tackle on Traoré 10 minutes into the second half, but they showed little bite in the area where it was urgently needed. Romain Saïss hacked before Robinson’s last piece of ammunition could reach a hiding Mitrovic and it was the only extra moment of aftermath attack from either side, both meticulously structured but lacking in flair or thrust that could really stir the senses, had produced as the game entered its final quarter. Wolves sniffed an opportunity when they got a free kick inside the ‘D’, but Saïss, stepping in for Ruben Neves, was two meters tall and wide.
Parker raised the bar by pitching Josh Maja for Harrison Reed. It was a message Fulham needed to attack and, within seconds, Bobby Decordova-Reid shot wide. Robinson then fizzed a cross through the box but no one was able to convert. At least that was an improvement and, as if to seize the invitation to dismount, Wolves responded when Leander Dendoncker curled a header on the roof of Areola’s net.
Then Ivan Cavaleiro replaced defender Ola Aina, but Fulham’s attempt to go to hell for the leather came too late. In a frantic end to the match, the two camps piled up ahead and it was Traoré, otherwise calm according to his criteria, who landed the punch.